The three Brothers of the Peach-orchard

The Meat-seller’s Challenge

One day Guan Yü arrived at Chu-chou, a dependent sub-prefecture of Peking, in Chihli. There Chang Fei, a butcher, who had been selling his meat all the morning, at noon lowered what remained into a well, placed over the mouth of the well a stone weighing two hundred and twenty-five pounds, and said with a sneer: “If anyone can lift that stone and take my meat, I will make him a present of it!” Guan Yü, going up to the edge of the well, lifted the stone with the same ease as he would a tile, took the meat, and made off. Chang Fei pursued him, and eventually the two came to blows, but no one dared to separate them. Just then Liu Pei, a hawker of straw shoes, arrived, interposed, and put a stop to the fight.

By 张天扬

The Oath in the Peach-orchard

Liu Pei, surnamed Hsüan Tê, first looked at Guan Yü, nine feet in height, with a beard two feet long. His face was the colour of the fruit of the jujube-tree, and his lips carmine. Eyebrows like sleeping silkworms shaded his phoenix eyes, which were a scarlet red. Terrible indeed was his bearing.

“What is your name?” asked Liu Pei. “My family name is Guan, my own name is Yü, my surname Yün Chang,” he replied. “I am from the Ho Tung country. For the last five or six years I have been wandering about the world as a fugitive, to escape from my pursuers, because I killed a powerful man of my country who was oppressing the poor people. I hear that the county official are collecting a body of troops to crush the Yellow Turban brigands, and I should like to join the expedition.”

Then Liu Pei looked at Chang Fei, also named Chang I Tê, eight feet in height, with round shining eyes in a panther’s head, and a pointed chin bristling with a tiger’s beard. His voice resembled the rumbling of thunder. His ardour was like that of a fiery steed. He asked, “What’s your name?”

My name is Chang Fêi,” replied Chang, “and I am a native of Cho Chün, where I have some fertile farms, and am a butcher and wine-merchant.”

The three men then went to Chang Fei’s farm, and on the morrow met together in his peach-orchard, and sealed their friendship with an oath. Having procured a black ox and a white horse, with the various accessories to a sacrifice, they immolated the victims, burnt the incense of friendship, and after twice prostrating themselves took this oath:

“We three, Liu Pei, Guan Yü, and Chang Fêi, already united by mutual friendship, although belonging to different clans, now bind ourselves by the union of our hearts, and join our forces in order to help each other in times of danger.

“We wish to pay to the State our debt of loyal citizens and give peace to our black-haired compatriots. We do not inquire if we were born in the same year, the same month, or on the same day, but we desire only that the same year, the same month, and the same day may find us united in death. May Heaven our King and Earth our Queen see clearly our hearts! If any one of us violate justice or forget benefits, may Heaven and Man unite to punish him!”

The oath having been formally taken, Liu Pei was saluted as elder brother, Guan Yü as the second, and Chang Fei as the youngest. Their sacrifice to Heaven and earth ended, they killed an ox and served a feast, to which the soldiers of the district were invited to the number of three hundred or more. They all drank copiously until they were intoxicated. Liu Pei enrolled the peasants; Chang Fei procured for them horses and arms; and then they set out to make war on the Yellow Turbans.

Guan Yü proved himself worthy of the affection which Liu Pei showed him; brave and generous, he never turned aside from danger. His fidelity was shown especially on one occasion when, having been taken prisoner by Ts’ao Ts’ao, together with two of Liu Pei’s wives, and having been allotted a common sleeping-apartment with his fellow-captives, he preserved the ladies’ reputation and his own trustworthiness by standing all night at the door of the room with a lighted lantern in his hand.

The various exploits of the three Brothers of the Peach-orchard are written in full in the book of the Story of the Three Kingdoms, a romance in which every Chinese who can read takes keen delight.

What’s the real name of Guan Yü?

Guan Yü, whose name was originally Fêng Xian,  and style name Chang-shêng (live long), afterward changed to Yün-chang, who was born near Chieh Liang, in Ho Tung (now the town of Chieh Chou in Shansi). His father was a blacksmith of Fêmg Family.

Guan Yü was of an intractable nature, having exasperated his parents, was shut up in a room from which he escaped by breaking through the window.

He ran away to the county town, and there stayed in a tavern. As he has nothing to do there, he took a walk one day, in one of the neighbouring houses he heard a young lady and an old man weeping and lamenting. Running to the foot of the wall of the compound, he inquired the reason of their grief. The old man replied that though his daughter was already engaged, the uncle of the local official, smitten by her beauty, wished to make her his concubine. His petitions to the official had only been rejected with curses.

Beside himself with rage, the youth seized a sword and went and killed both the official and his uncle. He escaped through the T’ung Kuan, the pass to Shensi. Having with difficulty avoided capture by the barrier officials, he knelt down at the side of a brook to wash his face; when lo! his appearance was completely transformed. His complexion had become reddish-grey, and he was absolutely unrecognizable.

As he stood in front of the high tower of the Tung Guan Pass, watching a group of wild geese flying pass the blue sky, a feather of the bird dropped down and setttled beside his feet. Suddenly he had an idea of making up his name by combining “Pass” and “Feather”, that was Guan Yü.

He then presented himself with assurance before the officers, who asked him his name. “My family name is Guan,” he replied,  “and my style name is Yü.”, which means the feather of the bird.

It was by that name that he was thereafter known.

Kung-Ming offered the empty city to his enemy

On one occasion Kung-ming had sent on a large army that he had collected to fight with the rival general Si-ma Yi who was nearly as able as himself, whilst he followed behind, hoping to reach it before the enemy came into contact with it. He was proceeding leisurely along, when he was suddenly disturbed by a rush of defeated soldiers who were flying in the utmost disorder as though pursued by a successful foe. He found to his dismay that these were his own men, who had been routed and dispersed by the opposing army; and so thoroughly had they been demoralized by their defeat that all the influence and prestige that he possessed had no power to stay their flight, or to induce them to gather round his standard and once more follow him to meet the enemy.

The panic indeed was so universal and the fear of the pursuing enemy so great, that he was deserted by every one excepting two of the most devoted of his followers, and with these he retreated to the city of Han-chung that lay some miles away in the rear. Entering into this, he ordered the city gates to be thrown wide open, whilst he and his two friends took up their position on the city wall with guitars in their hands, and there, as though they were celebrating a great victory, they sang songs and played the most lively airs on their instruments.

Before long the first ranks of the advancing foe appeared in the distance, and ere long the whole army, with banners flying and trumpets braying and with every sign of exultation, rapidly advanced in the direction of the city with the certainty of capturing it without a blow. As the troops drew near, what was their astonishment to find that the gates were flung wide open, whilst Kung-Ming, the redoubtable general, was seen playing the guitar on the walls of the town in full view of the whole army.

The general immediately ordered a halt of all the troops under his command, and rode forward with his staff to examine into this remarkable state of things. The city gates truly were thrown wide open, but not a soldier could be seen either there or upon the ramparts, neither was there any sign of defence whatsoever. All that could be seen was Kung-Ming sitting with a gay and festive air on one of the towers, twanging his guitar and singing one of the national songs of the time. As the general gazed in the utmost perplexity the notes of the music vibrated through the air, and the loud tones of Kung-Ming, heard above the highest strains, reached the listening soldiers as they stood to their arms.

There was something mysterious about these open gates, and the musical entertainment that could only have been prepared for the enemy. Kung-Ming had always been noted for the fertility of his resources, and now he had evidently thought out a deep-laid scheme to involve his enemies in utter ruin.

General Si-ma Yi was a man of consummate ability, but he recognized that in military tactics he was no match for the man that was singing so blithely on the walls above him. Fearful lest his army should be involved in some terrible disaster by the wily foe with whom he had to contend, he gave orders to retreat, and every man under his command felt that he was not safe until some miles had been placed between him and the famous general who had been entertaining them in so strange and unlooked-for a manner.

Thus by this famous ruse Kung-Ming saved his town for Liu Bei, and at the same time gave him an opportunity of gathering together his forces for a new campaign with his enemies. The story has come down the ages, and to-day is perpetuated in the language in the well-known proverb, “Kung-Ming offered the empty city to his enemy,” which is often applied to clinch an argument about something that is happening in daily life.

— Sidelights on Chinese Life, by J. Macgowan

A Chinese Diogenes

During the epoch known as that of the Three Kingdoms [221-265], Ts’ao Ts’ao, a lawless and prominent character of that period, ordered an erratic philosopher named Ti’ao Hen to come to his court. On his arrival, Ts’ao Ts’ao treated him very shabbily, at which he raised his eyes to heaven, saying, ‘ Heaven and earth are wide ; why then are no men to be found ? ‘ Ts’ao replied that he had some teens of warrior chieftains under him, and enumerated several, with commendatory remarks on each one. Ti’ao Hen laughed sneeringly, and said, ‘The first may do to condole with folks after a bereavement ; the second might manage to guard a grave ; the third might answer for a doorkeeper ; the fourth, a ballad singer ; the fifth, a beater of drums and gongs ; the sixth, a cowherd ; the seventh is good at litigation ; the eighth might carry letters; the ninth, sharpen knives and swords ; the tenth can drink wine, lees and all ; the eleventh might make a fair bricklayer ; the twelfth could stick pigs and kill dogs ; the rest are mere clothes frames, rice sacks, wine barrels, and meat bags.’

‘ And, pray, what abilities may you have ? ‘

‘ There is no knowledge, heavenly or earthly, that I have not mastered ; the three religions, and the nine professions, I know thoroughly. I can instruct emperors how to rule like the celebrated monarchs of old time ; I can display virtue comparable to that of Confucius and his disciples. But I cannot throw myself away among a set of vulgar fellows.’

At this, one of the bystanders drew his sword to behead the boaster. But Ts’ao stopped him, saying, ‘ I am in need of a drummer.’

Next day Ts’ao prepared a great feast, and as the guests arrived, ordered the drum to be beaten. The philosopher-drummer appeared dressed in shabby old clothes, and began drumming away in such a style that the guests were struck with melancholy. An attendant cried out, ‘ Why did you come in those rags ? ‘ At which the philosopher began to strip !

‘ Don’t you know the proprieties ? ‘ shouted Ts’ao.

‘ Yes, I do. To deceive and shamefully treat one’s monarch is surely a breach of propriety. But my body, see how clean it is ! ‘

‘ Clean ? Whose is not ? ‘

‘ You cannot distinguish between the worthy and the ignoble there is dirt in your eye. You have never studied any good books your mouth is dirty. You will not listen to faithful words your ears are dirty. You know nothing of matters, ancient or modern your breast is dirty. You are ever planning usurpation and insurrection your heart is dirty. And then you make me a drummer.’ And he began drumming away more erratically than ever.

One of the guests, fearing that Ts’ao would kill Ti’ao Hen, began to plead for him.

Ts’ao replied by saying, ‘ Look here, I will send you to Kingchow , to get Lieu Piao to submit, thus making an ambassador of you.’

” Ti’ao Hen at first refused to go ; but three horses were prepared, and a farewell feast provided. He sat down to table with tears in his eyes, exclaiming, ‘ I am moving amongst dead men living in the midst of coffins.’

‘ If we are dead men,’ cried one of Ts’ao’s followers, ‘ you are a headless demon.’

‘Not so,’ he replied, ‘ I am a statesman of the Han dynasty. You followers of Ts’ao are without a head.’

Several swords flashed, but one of the generals said, ‘Swords should not be defiled with the blood of rats and sparrows.’

‘ If I am a rat, I have the heart of a man. You are a mere nest of hornets.’ At which they arose and went off in a rage.

On arriving at Kingchow, Ti’ao Hen bestowed ironical praises upon Lieu Piao, who, making nothing of him, sent him to Kiangsha , the modern Wuchang. On being asked why he did not stop the old fool’s tongue by beheading him, Lieu Piao replied, ‘ He shamed Ts’ao, who dare not kill him for fear of what folks would say. I was not going to do as he wanted me to, and thus earn the name of a slayer of good men. I have sent him off to Kiangsha, to show Ts’ao Ts’ao that I have a bit of nous.’

” Arrived at Kiangsha, Ti’ao Hen was banqueted. During the feast he was asked his opinion of Ts’ao’s men. He gave characteristic replies. ‘ Well, and what do you think of me ? ‘ his host inquired.

‘ Oh, you are like an idol in a temple, who receives many an offering, but does nothing in return.’

‘ So you make me out to be a mere dummy of clay and wood ! ‘ cried the irate host, unsheathing his sword and hacking away at the neck of the mocker, who continued to curse as long as there was any life in him.

” Lieu Piao, however, hearing thereof, mourned for the old man, and ordered him to be buried on the islet to the south of Hanyang, which, in memory of a petition sent by the philosopher to the weak-minded Emperor, called the Parrot Ode, has been named the Parrot Islet to this day.